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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Visible Problems

@jchyip tweets "Just because a problem is visible doesn't mean that it's the most important one to deal with first."

In hierarchical organizations, the most important problem to deal with first is the one visible to your boss - or his boss. So much the worse for hierarchical organizations of course.

@flowchainsensei agrees, but says he would prefer the word "analytic", and posts a chart onto Twitter to clarify his use of the word "analytic".

The Four Mindsets and three transition zones of Rightshifting on Twitpic

Which types of organization are good at dealing with invisible problems? I searched for "invisible problems" on the Internet and found a few random examples: alcohol, presenteeism, cell-phone antennas, gambling, racism, violence against girls in school, vulnerable customers, water. One important point about any invisible problem is that problem-solving contains at least two additional steps - firstly persuading yourself that there is a problem at all, and secondly motivating others to help you solve it.

Sometimes you have to prepare a solution, but you cannot get enough resources or political support to implement your solution - until something happens to make the problem visible. Which means that whenever something dreadful happens, there are always opportunists who try to use this event as a pretext for introducing some innovation or other, which (they optimistically argue) would prevent such an event ever occurring again. Indeed, sometimes a dreadful event is so politically convenient for certain parties or interest groups that they may even be accused (by their opponents or by conspiracy theorists) of having engineered the event themselves (POSIWID).

An intelligent organization should have the capacity to identify and deal with invisible problems - making potential problems visible, and motivating people to anticipate and prevent problems before they occur. This is not the only defining characteristic of an intelligent organization, but it is one of the things that we should expect more intelligent organizations to be better at than less intelligent organizations.

I'd appreciate some good examples of such organizations to go into the book I'm writing on organizational intelligence.

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